Individuals with straightforward asset holdings and simple family structure can opt for an online Will. Heres how.
Technology has made it easy for you to leave your legacy the way you want. Many companies are now providing Will drafting services over the internet. "Increase in digital penetration and changing social structure have increased online Will volumes," says Nandkishore Purohit, Head - Digital Strategy and Analytics at HDFC Securities.
A Will is a critical part of estate planning but most people keep delaying it - what if my family members figure out that I am making multiple visits to the lawyer's office to make a Will? How will my family members react to my distribution choice if, just in case, the Will gets leaked? The e-commerce companies that have entered the space are riding piggy-back on these concerns. Apart from the above, a bunch of other beliefs like "I am not dying anytime soon" or "I am not rich enough" or "My family members are unlikely to fight over my assets" are also a factor in people's decision not to write a will. Some also get intimidated by the notion that drafting a Will is complex and expensive.
You don't need to hire a lawyer to make a Will. If you are 18 and of sound mind, you can make a Will for your self-earned assets in favour of anyone. Just write what you want on a piece of paper along with the details of the executor - the person who will handle the division of assets after you die. Sign it in front of two witnesses, and also get them to sign it. This is your valid Will. Even registration of a Will is not mandatory. A Will can be altered any time in the future by the drawer. The law considers only the last Will as valid. "The entire process is best done in the presence of a doctor. It can also be recorded to add to authenticity," says Hardik Shah, an independent lawyer who practices and teaches family law in Mumbai.
Although drawing a Will is a simple affair, the fear of not doing it right or it getting contested in courts forces many to seek expert advice. But expert advice is expensive and involves multiple visits to a lawyer. Experienced lawyers even charge a percentage of the value of the assets to be bequeathed.
To avoid this, people hard pressed for time and money can create a Will on the website of the service provider. Some of these websites offer free templates while some offer legal advice to customise as per the needs of the client for a fee.
For instance, Willstar.in and Lawfarm.in, two start-ups in the space, offer a ready template. Other players include HDFC Securities, EzeeWill, Willeffect.in and SBICAP Trustee. Many banks such as ICICI Bank and Federal bank also offer Will services in collaboration with online legal advisors to their non-resident clients. There are others too in the fray. But one should be diligent before zeroing in on a service provider as they deal with your valuable personal data.
Creating a Will online include a few easy steps. Register with the service provider, fill the questionnaire on personal data like details of members, religion, details of the executor, details of assets and how they are to be distributed, and then take the print out of the Will. Remember that while filling the questionnaire one can also make specific bequeath as per ones choice.
Based on the data so fed, the service provider will make a draft Will and send it for review. One can do multiple revisions in the draft before the final submission. But these changes come at a cost. The final Will is either emailed to the person or sent by post.
In the final step, one has to take a printout of the Will, sign it, and get it signed by at least two witnesses. The final Will is then kept with a custodian for safekeeping so that it can be produced by the executor on the individual's death. Depending on the service provider, a basic online Will can cost you anywhere between Rs 1,500 and Rs 4,500. Some websites demand immediate payment on registration, while some ask for payment only before the final Will is sent. Some also offer allied services like executorships, safe-keeping and registration at additional cost.
Creating an online will is less time-consuming and can save multiple visits to the lawyer's office. It can be prepared as discreetly as possible without anyone knowing it. Some service providers also offer mobile application for the purpose. Importantly, one need not make a will in one sitting. Service providers offer a time limit of 30-60 days to complete the entire process from the time of registration. Much like the physical Will, the online Will can be altered as many times as desired by the drawer. Service providers offer discounts for alterations.
Since there is no human interface, utmost care has to be taken while providing details and choosing beneficiaries. Some caution can help one avoid future disputes. "One must make sure that asset details, their holding pattern and the desired beneficiary are named accurately, because a detail here and there might be missed out when there is no human interaction," says Anuradha Shah, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Warmond Trustees and Executors.
Also, data confidentiality and security is a concern. A legal advisor is unlikely to breach his fiduciary duty towards his client; a similar level of safety is wanting while dealing with online platforms.
Online Will is best suited to someone with an uncomplicated asset composition and a simple family structure. For complex matters, experts advise seeking lawyers' services. "More often than not, one size does not fit all. There are individuals with complex assets and/or family situations. There are clients with global assets, those who may be bound by forced heir-ship laws or those who may have concerns around foreign estate tax...such a clientele may not be fully satisfied by online Will drafting portals," says Shah of Warmond Trustees and Executors.
Also, unlike online Will services, personalised Will drafting services also include advisory around taxation, executor services and court fees.
Disputes and Online Will
For all purposes, there is no difference between a Will drafted online or otherwise as a Will has to be kept in a physical format and produced before courts to get the probate. The probate certifies that the Will is valid, after which the executor can complete the final wishes of the Will maker. Clearly, a Will can be contested by a family member irrespective of the mode of drafting of the Will. "It is incorrect to say that a Will drafted online is less or more prone to disputes. Having said that, a well-drafted Will can avoid disputes to a certain extent," said Shah.
Will Vs Nomination
A general perception among investors is that there is no need for a Will when they have nominations for the various asset classes. But there is a difference between a Will and a nomination. "A nominee is just a trustee for getting the custody of the asset and may not be the ultimate beneficiary," says Hardik. "The law is clear on this. Except shares and bonds, a Will supersedes nomination in all asset classes."
In the absence of a Will, assets of the deceased individual are distributed according to the individual's personal laws. Not leaving a Will behind leads to legal disputes among family members. An online Will is better than having no Will at all.
"Today we are seeing more people using the internet than ever before. This is making space for online Will drafting services and in a certain way revolutionising the way our forefathers wrote their Wills," says Shah of Warmond Trustees and Executors.
(Jigar Pathak is a freelance writer based in Mumbai)